Dad on the Run (Cours Toujours)

Album cover: video cover Dad on the Run
(Cours Toujours)

A film by Dante Desarthe
35mm, color, 92 minutes, 2000
French w/English subtitles

Available in the US from:
First Run Features
153 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10014
Tel: 212 243 0600
Fax: 212 989 7649

This is the funniest madcap Jewish comedy since the insanely "Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob". It immediately raises an important existential question: Why don't American Jews do madcap Jewish comedies? Why can't American Jews even do a loving circumcision scene? (Compare the scene here with, say, "Crossing Delancy" or the circumcision episode of "Seinfeld")? This may also be the very first feature film in the last 50 years to have a klezmer soundtrack (about more, later--imagine, klezmer as the soundtrack for a film about French Sephardic Jews?)

I'm trying to figure out how to describe the plot. The father is one-half of a Jewish simkha band that does horrible, horrible lounge versions of French and North African Jewish music for marriages, bar mitzvahs, and other simchas. The scenes in which we watch the singer (the other half of the duo) are worth seeing just for the carefully-done sendups of the genres. So, our keyboard-playing duo has a son. Well, his wife has a son. He is there at the birth to complain that he didn't get a daughter. Rather than strangle him, the wife brings him around. This allows the strange, madcap adventures to unravel.

Set against during the days when the Pope arrives in Paris a few years ago, we get a surreal view of French Jewish life, in particular of the life of very assimilated Jews of North African extraction (but also, the mother of our hero who is a very nice Jewish mother, not so assimilated, and not the misogynist American stereotype of same). And, in more particular, what happens when a rather young, Jewishly-ignorant new father is told that it is family custom to bury the child's foreskin in three days. Other elements include a bar mitzvah party in which a very jealous father sees our hero with the bar mitvah boy's step mother and assumes the worst, sending his security folks out to do some harm. Then there is the Pope connection. And finally, a send-up of Fiddler on the Roof. Oh, did I mention a van with a blinking Magen David on the roof?

I won't claim that in the excitement all loose ends get tied up. A lot don't. This is, after all, in the spirit of the Marx Brothers. But the major question raised by this movie is "why klezmer?" It's not music that was a part of French Jewish life. It is certainly remote from the lives or culture of the huge community of French Jews who migrated from North Africa when Algeria became independent. "Rabbi Jacob," after all, made do with cheesy spy movie music to great effect. I think that the choice of background music has a lot to do with how klezmer has achieved semiotic status as a token for "Jewish", regardless of whether or not it has anything to do with the specific Jewish culture in question. It does, as I say, raise fascinating cultural questions. In any event, they are questions that will be fun to ask after you see the movie. "Dad on the Run" is great fun. And, inappropriate as the genre may be, the soundtrack is first rate!

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 8/3/03

P.S. Speaking of klezmer, the American distributor, First Run Features, is also the distributor for Michal Goldman's incredible 1988 documentary, "Jumpin' Night at the Garden of Eden", about the klezmer revival, and in particular, about Kapelye and the Klezmer Conservatory Band rediscovering and remaking a music tradition.

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